At the turn of the century, the destiny of the Pittsburgh Pirates was dark. The glory days that they enjoyed in the early ‘90’s were coming to a close, and a streak of losing seasons would ensue as the Pirates were viewed as a laughing stock. Now some 20 years later, and Pittsburgh is at the top of the National League, 10 games over .500, and receiving serious national attention for the first time since Andrew McCutchen had dreads; but how did we get here?
Lets start with the streak. Twenty. Twenty straight losing seasons is the ship the Buccos were aboard from 1993-2012, the longest streak of its kind in North American sports history, and not the kind any team wants to be attached to. This period marked a time of murky waters, as homegrown talent was leaving for larger market teams (Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, Doug Drabek) and management was having a hard time keeping up with these departures and not being able to compete financially.
The opening of PNC Park in 2001 did little to change the fortunes in Pittsburgh, as the Pirates were still far behind in building a championship contender. 2010 would mark a 105-loss season, in which the club could not be farther behind.
Then slowly but surely things began to build toward something brighter, as from 2013-2015 the Pirates made it to the postseason. Behind an MVP season from Andrew McCutchen with co-stars Starling Marte, Gerrit Cole, Neil Walker, and many more, the Pirates were winning. They went onto beat Cincinnati in the Wild Card game, before eventually falling to the Cardinals in the next round. Whilst it was a short postseason run, it really seemed like the Pirates were onto greater things... wrong.
Owner Bob Nutting and co. showed the cards they usually show when it comes time to pay, all bluff. When it came time to hold them or fold them, Nutting folded hard, and off went those aforementioned stars. ‘Cutch was traded, Marte popped for steroids, and Gerrit Cole only blossomed into one of the best pitchers in baseball. More rough years ensued for Pittsburgh, only finishing above .500 one time since 2015.
Finally, here we are in 2023. Coming off of back-to-back 100-loss seasons, not much was expected out of the cellar dwellers that had become the Pirates. Bryan Reynolds demanded to be traded, we had a near-bottom payroll and an uninspiring rotation. But then again, here we are. Here we are as the Pirates are one of the most exciting teams in baseball, and this team of misfit toys look like they may be one to make noise this season.
It’s hard to pinpoint what inspired this change, but since the start of the season, this team has become unrecognizable.
Andrew McCutchen returned home, Bryan Reynolds became the richest Pirate ever, Derek Shelton got an extension, and the Buccos are rolling. At this rate, we are slated to be finishing with a winning record, and may even be competing for a wild card spot come fall.
This team can be described in a lot of ways. Unexpected, surprising, but more than anything the team is fun. Any highlight is all of a sudden huge highlight. The homerun celebrations are the stuff of swashbuckling legends. McCutchen and Reynolds are both playing like All-Stars, and even with the absence of Oneil Cruz, the team is scoring major runs, recording a wild 33 of them in the series against Colorado.
This team has come a long way. Even just from last year, this team is already a night and day difference. Granted this has been a long time coming, but hopefully moving forward this is what the new generation Pirates look like. A World Series would be nice, but still unlikely, however it has been a long time since it was this fun to be a Pirates fan, and right now the watercooler conversations at work about how good the team is is good enough for me.